On Tour: Final Stop

30 Apr


Prior to this trip I’d barely crossed the border into Virginia, and had not so much as set foot in West Virginia. So I was glad for the chance to tick WV off the list (with that and the addition of DE, I’ve now hit all the lower 48!)

An inauspicious welcome

As with the rest of this tour, I looked forward to having my expectations busted wide open. Those preconceptions included a state full of backwoods hollers, coal mines and toothless denizens (hey, at least I’m honest about my stereotyping!). Sure enough, my 28 hours or so in WV succeeded in rearranging these notions. It’s what I love about traveling.

The first pleasant surprise was how pretty it was. Though my drive from Lynchburg to Charleston was cloudy and rainsoaked, the beauty of the landscape was non-stop: rolling, wooded hills as far as my eye could see; and RIVERS. Note to self: get a canoe and come back. I’ve never seen such an impressive and beckoning collection of rivers in one area; they looked mostly untamed and just the right size for serious canoe-trips.

A better sign

With an eye on my 4:30 pm tech-check I was able to stop and hike for only a couple hours on the Allegheny Trail, right at the border of WV. My sportster was the only car at the trailhead, and I didn’t see another human on the trail, though it was a well marked route.

Last chance to stretch legs and fill lungs before returning to Chicago

This impression of WV as a pristine Eden gradually lifted as I approached Charleston, which happens to be the state capital. The highway began following a bloated and less-healthy-looking river, which became lined on both sides with heaps of coal and chemical holding tanks. Charleston itself didn’t seem to have much going for it either. My hotel was on the edge of a desolate and desecrated area about a mile from the capitol. Across the street was the venue, the massive Clay Center for the Arts & Sciences: home of one of the ugliest outdoor sculptures I’ve ever seen.


The venue

My host, Lakin Cook, tried to lower my expectations for the turnout, saying that the film series was drawing anywhere from 5-20 people. I assured her that my expectations were already low. So we were both surprised when folks started flowing in and kept coming. The total hit somewhere north of 35 people; I believe it was Lakin’s best turnout yet. What pleased me even more was the diverse age-range of the crowd, including several kids (it’s always puzzled me that more people don’t bring their kids to Milking the Rhino). The Q&A was excellent as usual, the crowd very engage. But after 20 minutes, Lakin wrapped it up early. Poor gal: she had a recently sprained an ankle and I could tell she was in pain.

A well-attended screening

So I continued talking in the hallway and made some new friends: John and Rhoda split their time between Charleston WV (where John hails from) and NYC (Rhoda). John had a studio apt on the lower east side for 38 years, which started at $25/month, and maxed out at $333/month. Ahh…..rent control! John had done some work on various documentaries in WV, and Rhoda was a painter. Great, warm folk.

New friends

Rhoda and John invited me to a concert of some friends of theirs that was already underway, but I was starving so I declined. I started to regret that as soon as they drove away. But things worked out well: I found my way to a place called Bluegrass Kitchen and enjoyed good microbrews and conversations while eating dinner at the bar. Plus one really fortuitous find: a duo was playing country/folk/alt music – guitar, fiddle and vocals. Even through the din of the restaurant they sounded fantastic. After the set we chatted a while and I bought a CD.  I’ve barely stopped listening since, and it keeps getting better each time. Ian McFerin hails from Seattle and is living the itinerant life with his performing partner Alisa Milner…bars, house parties, festivals. His lyrics are potent and poetic. I predict it won’t be long til he busts through to bigger venues. Check him out: http://www.ianmcferon.com/

The next day I had time to bide before flying home. A tip from someone the night before steered me toward Taylor Books. The perfect place to drink coffee, peruse mags, catch up on emails and write this blog. It confirmed my impression that in any decent sized town, no matter how threadbare the cultural climate seems on first impression, you can always find the soulful parts of town if you spend some time and ask around.

My final adventure on this tour was the drive to the Charleston airport. Since you can’t plug airport call letters into my old GPS, I trusted in the printout of Google directions provided by Mid-Atlantic Arts. I had little margin for error to catch the flight, and as soon as I started driving I began to doubt Google. It sent me up a gully on a narrow, winding, desolate, barely paved road. I swear I did not pass a single car in either direction the entire way! I kept thinking there’s no way in hell that this road leads to an airport big enough for a direct flight to Chicago! I obeyed the directions on to several other roads that were no wider or less curvy, always going upwards. I finally reached an airport that is literally on top of a small hill, surrounded by hollows and ravines. It is so constrained by its geography that the runway approach lights are mounted on a scaffold bridge extending into mid-air. I’ve landed and taken off in small planes from miniscule, mountain-bordered runways in Panama and unmarked barren ground in Africa; but this was the shortest runway I’ve seen for a commercial jet. I swear we used every inch of that thing taking off. Every stop on this trip packed some sort of surprise. This was a fitting end.

Post by OSIP touring filmmaker, David E. Simpson. Thank you David, for everything! You’re a total pro, and we’re so lucky to have you participate in our tour. I hope that the audiences enjoyed Milking the Rhino as much as we did.

To read more posts by this filmmaker, please click here.


2 Responses to “On Tour: Final Stop”

  1. Susan Doll May 2, 2012 at 11:23 am #

    As someone whose family is from WV, I have been underestimated, insulted, and ridiculed much of my life because of the stereotype you so cavalierly mention. Even the description of the airport at the end of the post is a jab at WV as some backwater place where there isn’t even a decent airport. Claiming the stereotype was dispelled for you to some degree is not enough. If this experience was related to a stereotype of African Americans or another minority, I doubt if you would have admitted to it or written about it in the same tone.

    • David E. Simpson May 3, 2012 at 11:35 am #

      I am sorry that you were offended by the casualness with which I mentioned stereotypes about your home state. I did not mean to sound cavalier. And I can understand how any expression of a tired cliché, without regard to context, can be annoying. But as someone who personally and professionally thinks all the time about stereotypes in representation, I do believe that such things should be confronted out loud, not whispered. My point in publicly confronting, and swearing off, my own prejudice was not to propagate stereotypes, but rather to get my reader to question similar preconceptions in him/herself. I do think it important that you not conflate the mentioning of a stereotype with the promoting of it.

      As for the airport: I am surprised that you viewed my description in such a negative light. Perhaps I should have made more explicit that I LOVED the Charleston airport. Its small size and unusual approach were nothing but positives for me. Noting a thing’s peculiarity does not automatically imply negative criticism.

      -David E. Simpson

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